Friday, April 9, 2010

Palin's Reagan-like Poll Numbers

Palin is in the same spot politically as Ronald Reagan was in 1978

In 1978, Americans were becoming more and more concerned about an economy that seemed to be falling to pieces under Jimmy Carter. But they were not yet ready to embrace Ronald Reagan to lead them out of the mess. In 2010, the same seems to be true for Obama and Palin. In 1978, conservativism was on the rise as Americans began to turn to their traditional roots for solutions to problems that just seemed unsolvable using the standard old inside the box ideas. Groups formed to oppose liberalism, communism and the Jimmy Carter agenda. Today, Tea Party groups are growing in much the same way. Like conservatives in 1978, today's Tea Party groups are not yet set on naming a leader. As in 1978, the same concerns about Ronald Reagan seem to now apply to Sarah Palin.

While many Republican insiders considered Reagan a formidable opponent for 1980, just as they do Palin today, they were concerned about nominating someone with whom swing voters were very uneasy at a time when the sale would have to be made against high liberal vitriol and a hostile press. Selling a hard conservative against the media tide would be difficult for someone considered a B grade movie actor whose "I can see Russia from my house" moment came when he starred in a movie called "Bedtime for Bonzo." And although Palin didn't act in the skits that bedevil her today, the image remains the same whether the caricature is of a goofy guy hanging out with a monkey or a ditzy lady talking about seeing Russia from her house.

The latest polls on Sarah Palin are actually quite good if you analyze them correctly. Here's the bad news: 38% view her unfavorably. Here's the good news: 24% view her favorably. Here's the best news:  37% are undecided. Win those undecideds over and she can go over 50% favorable.

You'd think I'd find it shocking that after all the work that Palin has done since January that her favorables would not have come up. Yes, I do question that. Conservatives4Palin said the poll "has been criticized as being weighted against Republicans." But the real surprise here is in the number of those who are undecided. Come on. You've got to be kidding me. You're telling me that 37% of the people don't know whether they like Sarah Palin or not? That's like doing a poll on Tiger Woods and finding out that 37% of people are undecided as to whether he was unfaithful in his marriage. There was just too much media coverage for that many people to not be able to come to a decision.

Andrew Malcolm at the Los Angeles Times thinks there a lot of people holding out.

Despite her prominence in politics and the media in recent months with her national best-selling book tour, speeches and frequent Fox News appearances, those who claimed to be undecided or not to have heard enough to have an opinion about Sarah Palin increased from 32% to 37%.

And if you believe their answers, we've got a non-existent bridge to nowhere for sale.
We have to accept one political fact about America that, although I hate to be the one coming across as cynical, has to be recognized. We are an "American Idol society." We make decisions based on popularity. We are also a nation of bandwagon jumpers. Everyone loves a winner. But we don't root on people until we think they can win. There could be 37% of the people just waiting to be told it's cool to like Sarah Palin again.

Whether it be the finals of American Idol or the Republican primary, those who are uncertain now could be waiting until they see who has the momentum before making a decision. Unnerving as it may sound that these are the people who could be choosing our next president, the fact remains that these are the same people who may have been tainted enough by the media smear campaign against Palin to be bitten enough to be shy but not brainwashed enough into accepting the media's caricature of  Palin now that they are realizing the media lied to them.

According to a Gallup poll, 21% of Americans consider themselves liberal, 35% consider themselves moderate and 40% consider themselves conservative. You could reasonably say the 21% liberal are probably part of the 38% who view Palin unfavorably. Of the remaining 17% who disapprove of her, most of them are probably moderates. But, let's say for argument sake that 7% are conservatives and 10% of them are moderates. If Palin's negatives go down to between 33% and 35% because she peels off 3% to 5% of these folks, then she's done good. If she wins over the undecideds, then she's done even better.

Let's do a lowball numbers cruch and come up with a prediction or at worst a possibility. For argument sake, we are assuming the liberal kool aid drinkers will never go to Palin. Let's assume that of the 37% undecideds, it's mainly the conservatives and moderates that can be convinced and that if there any liberals in there, they will swing to unfavorable. We're also going to assume that Sarah Palin wins the GOP primary in 2012 just so that we can consider the possibilities of her winning the general election.

Assuming that undecided liberals and Democrats break against Palin 2-1, moderates and Independent undecideds split and conservative and Republican undecideds break anywhere from 2/3 to 3/4 in favor of Palin, Palin ends up with 43% favorability right before she wins the GOP primary. Of the unfavorables, about 30% of them will be conservative or Republican until all the other candidates are exhausted from the race. Given the choice of voting for Obama or Palin in the general election, they would vote for Palin regardless of what they told a pollster months earlier. This would result in her getting 53% of the vote, enough to win the presidency.

It wasn't the Reagan kool aid drinkers that got him elected in 1980. It was more the independent, moderate and Republican insider skeptics that broke for him at the last minute when confronted with the alternative of having to cast a vote for Jimmy Carter. It took the "there you go again" debate performance to convince the necessary voting block of something true Reaganites had known for years: that he was capable of doing the job.

And like Reagan's win in 1980, it will be the anti-incumbent vote that will decide her fate. As much as many love Sarah Palin, we must face the fact that it will be the "lesser of two evil" voters that could be the swing.

This would fall into line with what the think tank Center for American and Arab Studies is saying:

Palin’s route to the Republican nomination is easy to see given the Republican Convention’s “winner takes all” rule that gives the candidate with the most votes during the primary election all of the delegates from that state. Since Palin currently has the most Republican support (and undoubtedly the most enthusiastic), she is very likely to sweep enough state primaries to come to the national convention with a majority of the pledged delegates.

Winning the presidential election, however, is more problematic. Although she falls behind Obama in test match-up polls and many likely voters still are skeptical about her, her current poll numbers are not that much different than those of Ronald Reagan in 1978. Much will depend on the mood of the country, the economic condition, and how Obama is perceived by the voters. She is currently recasting the debate between D.C. outsiders who stand for limited government and D.C. insiders who want to expand government and increase taxes. Only a substantial course correction by Obama and the Democrats in Congress could nullify the political power of Palin's argument. And such a course correction does not seem to be in the works.

So, is a President Sarah Palin likely? It isn’t what conventional wisdom envisions. However, conventional wisdom didn’t see Presidents Reagan or Obama either.
Although I am not a professional PR person or image consultant, it is safe to say that Palin controls half of her destiny and God controls the other half. She can screw it up by making mistakes; but that is highly unlikely as she is way more polished now. The rest depends on the economy and the level of fear of socialism among the people.

If you asked me right now if she is going to win, I would tell you that chances are decent that she can, but I'll wait until the outcome of 2010 to put money on it. There is that one variable left: how much political capital she can earn between now and then. Knowing what I know of Palin, she will do it and I will be plunking down $500.00 on her in January in a bet with a friend of mine as soon as they put her name on the entry list.

It's a long way from Katie Couric and the resignation. But, it is also a long way from swearing in our first female president. We are at the half way point now. Palin was big in 2008, she's even bigger now and she's on her way to becoming a behemoth by 2012. Everything that I expected to happen in the evolution of Sarah Palin has happened. There is no reason for that not to continue. If history serves us as a guide, you can count on the "next Reagan" to win the same way the last Reagan did.

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